Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Kayaking Mason Creek

We woke around 3:30 am after hearing several great horned owls in the trees across the canal. We got back to sleep and didn’t get up until nearly 7 am.

We all walked the dogs around the neighborhood, then Mark and I baited the pin fish trap with a mixture of mackerel and oats. We put the trap in the canal behind the house.

Cindy & Mark loading on Mason Creek

We loaded the kayaks on the pickup and drove to the public launch on Mason Creek. We were on the water from around 11:15 until about 2:30. Since we had never hauled the kayaks before, we had to experiment with how to arrange the two tandem kayaks on the pickup. Mark has a rack that attaches to the hitch and gives an additional 4 feet of support. We strapped the kayaks in the front and rear with one on top of the other which seemed to be a good arrangement. We saw several boats of people fishing and most reported success catching lady fish and sea trout as well as a few other saltwater gamefish. The Whittingtons' kayaks were very stable and comfortable. It was a perfect day for paddling in the estuaries. We saw several large fish as well as schools of smaller fish in the clear water of Mason Creek and the estuaries. We paddled up the canal behind their house on Standish Drive but not near the house so the dogs wouldn’t hear us and try to follow.

Mark & Cindy kayaking on Mason Creek

We went along one of the islands as far as we could get in the low water of low tide but had to turn around and go around the island clockwise. By the time we made it to the low water area, the tide had come in enough for us to get through without a portage. However, we were going against a strong current and had to paddle hard to get through the narrow gap. When we returned to the Mason Creek launch ramp, we had gone about 6 miles. We were tired but enjoyed the day immensely and looked forward to another kayaking trip.

Mary piloting the kayak on Mason Creek

Dinner was an excellent selection of leftovers with rigatoni with sauce and Italian sausage or butter and cheese, pork loin and broccoli. Everyone had a good meal.

We took the dogs for a short evening walk then came in to watch a few episodes of The Dectorists on Acorn, then turned in at 10 pm.

Monday, January 30, 2023

The Villages

We woke early for our 7:30 departure to The Villages. Mark and I took the dogs on a short but brisk walk to the public boat launch on Morris Creek.

The drive to The Villages took a little more than an hour. We dropped Cindy off at her hair appointment a little before 9 am, where we met with Jodie. We drove back to the town square area at Sumter Landing on Lady Lake. We learned that The Villages has at least three commercial centers with gated residential “villages” clustered around each. There were many stores, restaurants and pubs in the town square as well as a golf cart dealership, gazebos for nightly concerts, a radio station and many walking paths. We walked along Lake Sumter and saw a lot of birds and watched the rowing teams in the lake.

Steve at a cigar shop in The Villages

We left The Villages around 10:45 to meet Cindy, Jodie and Grant for lunch. We all got sandwiches at Chicken Salad Chick and enjoyed the lunch and visit.

On the way back to Homosassa, we stopped at the Rainbow Springs State Park where we walked a couple of miles by the springs and small waterfalls. The area was a developed tourist trap in the 1960s with large gardens. By talking with the rangers, we found three good places to launch kayaks. One spot is in the spring where rentals are launched. Another spot is behind the Winn Dixie, and the third is near Swampy’s Restaurant in Dunnellon where the Rainbow River connects to the Withlacoochee River.

Rainbow Springs State Park

We drove the 30 miles back to Homosassa, stopping at Dollar Tree to get canned fish to use as bait for the fish trap. Then we drove through the Twistee Treat for ice cream cones.

Mary, Cindy and I walked the dogs while Mark fired up the grill. We had charcoal grilled pork loin with rice and broccoli for dinner then watched a few episodes of The Dectorists on Acorn before retiring.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Jacaranda Hotel

We had cereal for breakfast then took the dogs of a short predawn walk, in order to leave for Avon Park shortly after 8 am. The temperature was warmer than the cooler mornings have had over the past few days.

The three-hour drive southeast on route 98 was uneventful as we watched the temperature increase to the low 80s. Mark had a good gospel bluegrass station on the Sirius radio, which was good listening for the drive. We made a stop in Lakeland for Krispy Kreme doughnuts then continued to Avon Park. We arrived at the historic Jacaranda Hotel at 11:30, happy that we had reservations since there was a long wait for a table. Steve came out for us and got us seated as soon as we arrived.

The buffet at the hotel was very good. I especially enjoyed the chicken and beef tips. There was a large selection of desserts, but their signature dessert is the strawberry shortcake. We all ate too much but enjoyed visiting with Steve and Marcia while we ate. It was interesting to hear about Steve’s work as a substitute teacher for third through fifth graders at an elementary school in Highlands County.

Our group at Highlands Hammock State Park

After lunch we drove to Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring and walked the short boardwalk Cypress Swamp Trail through the wet hammock. After the big meal, it felt good to walk around some.

Steve and Steve at Highland Hammocks SP

We drove back to Homosassa nearly the same way on route 98, arriving at the house around 5:30. We checked the pin fish trap in the canal but had no fish. We took the dogs on a longer evening walk since their morning walk was so short.

We had a snack for dinner then relaxed in the evening. Mary and Cindy read, while Mark watched the Bengals and Chiefs in the playoff game. We planned to leave around 7 am to drive east to The Villages to see Mark’s sister, Jodie.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

We took the dogs for a long walk through the neighborhood early in the morning. Mary and Cindy saw an otter running across the road not far from the house. Mark made excellent breakfast burritos after we got back from our walk.

Since we were unable to get into the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park on Friday because of the huge number of school buses, we decided to arrive at the park when it opened on Saturday. Our first stop in the park was the spring which brings fresh water up from 80 feet underground. A large school of crevalle jack fish were circling in the water. There were also some large snook and a few other smaller fish. Several large manatees were swimming in the relatively warm water, escaping the colder salt water of the Gulf. We went below the observation deck to the underwater viewing area and watched the schools of fish swimming among the manatees.

Manatee in Homosassa Springs

We walked along the stream flowing from the spring and saw hundreds of manatees in the shallow water. There was an area where tour boats were taking snorkelers to interact with the manatees. There was also an area where injured manatees were held for recuperation. It held several manatees including one that was huge.

Black crowned night heron

he park has displays of flamingos, herons, egrets, pelicans and other waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds. There were barn owls, barred owls, ospreys, and bald eagles. Enclosures held a wolf, fox, otters, and a Florida panther. All the birds and mammals at the center have been injured and are unable to survive in the wild. We laughed because a lady was at the park photographing birds and had an app playing bird calls. Several times we thought we were hearing a wild bird when she walked by us. We left the park around noon and returned to the house for a lunch of the leftover chili and cornbread.

White form of Great Blue Heron

In the afternoon we repaired the latch on the gate between the house and garage. The screws weren’t holding in the hollow plastic posts, so we had to run to Ace Hardware for an all thread to drill through the post with locking nuts on each side with an aluminum backing plate.

We also checked the crab trap and pinfish trap in the canal. The crab trap was in bad shape and needed to be trashed, but we baited the fish trap with some rib bones to see if we could catch baitfish.

We decided to drive the short distance to the Withlacoochee trailhead that we visited on Friday. We hiked the shorter Hog Pond Loop taking us to three deep flooded quarry pits. We saw several large bass swimming in the clear water and considered returning sometime to fish. We saw a man with his dog fishing in a quarry pit. He told us that he caught at least 50 fish within an hour the day before. Today, he said was slower with only 6 or 8 fish per hour.

The sun was starting to set as we were leaving, but the trail back to the truck is only about a mile, so we got back with no problems.

Mary, Cindy, and I took the dogs for a short walk while Mark made rigatoni with Italian sausages and cherry tomatoes. A garden salad was on the side. As always, everything was quite good.

After dinner we streamed a few episodes of Last Man Standing then turned in early since we have an early departure on Sunday morning.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Burnt Bridge Trail

We slept until 6 am and has a cold cereal breakfast before taking a long walk in the neighborhood with the dogs. We walked nearly three miles by the time we got back to the house.

We left for Homosassa State Wildlife Park around 10 am and got there quickly since it is very nearby. When we arrived, we found that there were several buses of elementary students from Citrus School District and the parking lots were filled with parents. We unable to find a parking place and were nearly unable to get out of the parking area.

We decided that we would probably be better going to that park on another day, so we drove the short distance to the Homosassa section of the Withlacoochee State Forest. We walked on the Burnt Bridge Trail and in the Chassahowitzka River and Coastal Swamps for over seven miles. The area had tremendous diversity of habitats from cypress wetlands to upland meadows to long leaf pine forests. We were very tired by the time we returned to the truck for the drive to the house. We stopped at the Tastee Treat for an ice cream cone before having a lunch of cold cut sandwiches.

Odd tree growing from a stump

In the afternoon Mark and I put a PVC post on the front light. Then Cindy decided that the outdoor light fixtures should be repainted, so we went to Ace Hardware for spray paint and hollow wall anchors to repair the downstairs towel racks.

Mark made roasted new potatoes and warmed the pulled pork from earlier in the week. It was all very good. After dinner we watched the rest of “And Then There Were None” on Acorn.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Paynes Prairie

We both slept well as we have on most nights here. The area is quiet, and the room is dark for sleeping.

Wild horses grazing among sandhill cranes

Cindy, Mary and I took the dogs on their morning walk then returned to have the oatmeal for breakfast. Jade enjoyed the walk, but Cedar clearly didn’t want to go out without Mark. The whole time we were walking away from the house, she constantly looked back for Mark. As we were coming back, she walked anxiously toward the house. Once in the yard she immediately ran to check on Mark. She is clearly a one-man dog.

Bison at Paynes Prairie

We drove north through Crystal River and Inglis to Paynes Prairie, south of Gainesville. As with most Florida state parks, the fee was $6. From the visitor center we walked out the Cones Dike Trail to view a huge flock of sandhill cranes, as well as many other waterfowl and shorebirds including snipes, coots, gallinules, a limpkin and a whooping crane. We walked out into the prairie where we saw a herd of perhaps a dozen bison. There are also horses that were descended from the genetic stock of the horses brought to Florida by early Spanish explorers in the 1500s. We spent a good deal of time in the area walking the trails and looking at the plants. We stopped by the visitor center again the continued north to additional trails into the prairie and an overlook of Lake Wauburg. We walked the Bolen Bluff Trail for 2.6 miles where we walked through wetlands.

Sandhill cranes feeding

Dinner was the chili and corn muffins that Mark made earlier. We had a great day but were tired. We watched the first of three hours of “And Then There Were None” on Acorn before we went to bed at 10 pm.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Follow That Dream

We slept well until after 6 am then went down when we heard Mark and Cindy stirring. We had a piece of toast then took the dogs for a long walk around the neighborhood. After the walk, Mark made scrambled eggs and sausage for breakfast as we planned our day.

Observation pier near Inglis

After breakfast Mark and I installed the seats in the new kayaks and checked out the other kayak gear, while Mary and Cindy packed lunch.

We drove north through Crystal River toward the town of Inglis, where we walked along the former Florida Barge Canal. We didn’t see any wildlife except a few birds, but the scenery was beautiful, and the history of the area was interesting. We went out on several piers and got over 10 miles of hiking in. We learned that the canal was originally planned to cut diagonally across the state from the Jacksonville on the Atlantic to Inglish on the Gulf, reducing the time for freight to move. However, the plan was scuttled when people realized that the salt water would cause irreparable damage to freshwater ecosystems across the state.

Mary & Steve at Yankeetown

We drove the short distance to Yankeetown and to the tiny Bird Creek Beach. The Elvis Presley movie, Follow That Dream, was filmed in the area in 1961.

On the drive back to Homosassa, we stopped at Rural King in Crystal River for a few things then at the Publix in Homosassa. Mark and I took the dogs on their evening walk while Mary and Cindy made fish tacos from the sea trout that one of the neighbors caught. We enjoyed the meal then relaxed for the evening.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Fort Island

Panorama from the Lake Loop Trail

Despite going to bed early, we slept until after 6 am. Around 8, we took the dogs out for a walk to a nearby observation tower at the Salt Marsh Trails area of the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge where we saw several birders.

Breakfast was sheet pancakes with blueberries, maple syrup, and bacon. Everything was good.

Mary at the water's edge

After breakfast we drove to Crystal River area, hiked on the Lake Loop Trail, and drove out to Fort Island Beach. Although we didn’t see any birds or wildlife, the area was beautiful and was a great place for us to walk.

Mark, Cindy & Mary

On the way back, we stopped at the Citrus County Visitor Center to pick up information on attractions in the area.

We made a quick stop at the Ace Hardware for postcards then headed back to the house since Cindy had a conference call with the charitable foundation that she supports in Oregon. While she was in t
he meeting, Mark and I finished the installation of the new door on the back deck.

Steve & Mary at Fort Island

After the meeting we ran out to Publix for groceries then to the Tastee Treat for soft serve ice cream.

Dinner at the house was pulled pork and spareribs with coleslaw. Everything was good. After showers and Duolingo lessons, Mary and Cindy played Cri
bbage while Mark watched the NBA game. We stayed awake until nearly 10 and hoped to sleep well again.

It was another warm and very pleasant day. We look forward to tomorrow's walk along the Crystal River then perhaps kayak near the house in the afternoon.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Arriving in Homosassa

Anticipating our early departure from CVG, we awoke at 3:45 and left for airport at 4 am. Once we were nearly at the airport, we realized that we forgot our breakfast sandwiches at home.

We parked at Covington Hilton at 5 am and caught shuttle immediately using our reservation with onestoparking.com. The driver dropped us and our bags at the airport, and we went through security with no problems. We were happy that we checked in online last night and had our Global Entry cards to expedite security.

We had a brief wait at the gate, so we ate our granola bars and responded to a few emails. We boarded on time and noticed that the flight wasn’t full. We had a bit of a wait while the aircraft was de-iced since the morning was very cold.

We mostly read for the duration of the flight, nodding off a little. The flight was smooth, and we arrived at PIE around 9:45. Our bag was the second bag to come on the carousal at baggage claim, which never happens for us.

The Whittingtons picked us up in Mark’s new 3/4-ton Dodge Ram, which is well equipped and had plenty of power. In addition, it has a surprisingly smooth and comfortable ride. We really enjoyed listening to the Sirius Radio, especially the Willie’s Roadhouse station playing vintage Country & Western music.

We went to Metro Diner near Tampa for brunch. Cindy and I had eggs Benedict, Mark had biscuits and gravy, and Mary had scrambled eggs and hash brown potatoes. I was pleased that the eggs were cooked to order; the whites of my eggs Benedict were firm, and the yolks were a bit runny.

We drove to Whittingtons' new place and had a tour of their house. Afterwards, Mark and I started installing a new screen door on the back porch that has a large dog door. We had to run out to the Ace Hardware store for caulking and spray paint. We took a break while the paint dried and took a walk with the dogs their neighborhood. We worked on the door after the walk until about 6 pm when the no-see-ums were biting.

Jade had eaten seeds from Sabal palm in the backyard. According to what they read; dogs that eat these seed typically die. However, Jade only had digestive issues for a few days then seemed to be fine. Nevertheless, Mark and Cindy attempted to keep the yard clear of Sabal Palm seeds.

Mary and Cindy made fresh caught sea trout with rice and asparagus for dinner along with a white wine. Everything was very good.

After dinner, we all took the dogs out for a walk then Mary and Cindy played cribbage, Mark watched college basketball, and I read.

We were all tired and turned in early.